Category: Shaarei Yosher

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Shaarei Yosher Meaning of Life Poster

If you would like this picture as a PDF to print for hanging in a school, shul or home, it is available here. We often complain that  we spend so much time on the halachic trees, we lose sight of the forest. I hope someone finds this reminder helpful.

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Torah Lishmah and Nefesh haChaim

Nefesh haChaim is a collection of Rav Chaim Volozhiner’s writings organized posthumously by his son and successor, R’ Yitzchak. We can see this in the self-description in the title page of the early editions of the Nefesh haChaim which opens, “Yir’as Hashem — for Life! Notebooks of holy writings of the true genius who was famous for his Torah and...

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Why give?

If we look in the Torah at verses that describe our obligations to give or loan to others, it is common for them to conclude with “I am your G-d”. For example: וְכַרְמְךָ לֹא תְעוֹלֵל, וּפֶרֶט כַּרְמְךָ לֹא תְלַקֵּט; לֶעָנִי וְלַגֵּר תַּעֲזֹב אֹתָם; אֲנִי ה אֱ-לֹהֵיכֶם. Do not totally glean your vineyard, and the fallen [fruit] from your vineyard do not...

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Earning one’s livelihood

The pasuq reads:  וּבָא הַלֵּוִי כִּי אֵין לוֹ חֵלֶק וְנַחֲלָה עִמָּךְ, וְהַגֵּר וְהַיָּתוֹם וְהָאַלְמָנָה אֲשֶׁר בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ, וְאָכְלוּ וְשָׂבֵעוּ, לְמַעַן יְבָרֶכְךָ ה אֱלֹקֶיךָ, בְּכָל מַעֲשֵׂה יָדְךָ אֲשֶׁר תַּעֲשֶׂה.  {ס} And the Levi, because he doesn’t have a portion nor an inheritance with you, and the ger, and the orphan and the widow, who are within gates, shall come, eat and be satisfied; so...

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Recorded Video Classes

I just completed a webinar (3 classes, 45 min each) for The Mussar Institute on Project Sinai‘s web site. Recordings of the classes are available on Project Sinai’s site: First Shiur. (The volume is overly loud for the first 3 min or so, which includes most of a rough biography of Rav Shimon Shkop, but not the actual text.) Second...

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The Holy Refrain

Rav Shim’on Shkop comments on the Toras Kohanim (a/k/a the Sifra) at the opening of parashas Qedoshim.… Yes, I’m revisiting the introduction to Shaarei Yosher. Again. And about the foundation of this mitzvah of sanctity the Toras Kohanim has “‘be holy’ – be separate”. Nachmanides, in his commentary on the Torah, explains at length this notion of separation as it...

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Shaarei Yosher: Chapter Headings

An outline, according to how I presented it: Life’s Mission Making ourselves in the “image” of the Creator. The “image” of the Creator is to bestow good on others — because creation had to be for our benefit, as He has no needs. We therefore must commit ourselves, sanctify all we have, to the mission of bestowing good to others....

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Shaarei Yosher, sec. 6: Refinement – Conclusion

To my mind, one can use this idea to elaborate what our sages explained in Nedarim (folio 38[a]) on the verse “carve for yourself”. Moses didn’t get rich except through the extras of the Tablets. This is an amazing idea – [is it possible that] Hashem couldn’t find any way to make Moses wealthy except through the extras of the...

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Shaarei Yosher, sec. 6: Refinement – Part 4

The beginning of the receiving of the Torah through Moses was a symbol and sign for all of the Jewish people who receive the Torah [since]. Just as Hashem told Moses, “Carve for yourself two stone Tablets”, so too it is advice for all who receive the Torah. Each must prepare Tablets for himself, to write upon them the word...

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Shaarei Yosher, sec. 6: Refinement – Part 3

The first Tablets were made by G-d, like the body of writing as explained in the Torah. The latter Tablets were made by man [Moses], as it says “Carve for yourself two stone tablets.” (Exodus 34:1) Tablets are things which cause standing and existence, that it’s not “letters fluttering in the air.” Since they were made by Hashem, they would...

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Shaarei Yosher, sec. 6: Refinement – Part 2

One can use this to explain the whole notion of breaking the [first] Tablets, for which I have not found an explanation. At first glance, understanding seems closed off. Is it possible that Moses our teacher would think that because the Jews made the [Golden] Calf they should be left without the Torah? He should have just waited to teach...

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If I am here…

תניא: אמרו עליו על הלל הזקן, כשהיה שמח בשמחת בית השואבה אמר כן: “אם אני כאן, הכל כאן. ואם איני כאן. מי כאן?” A beraisa: They said about Hillel the Elder, when he was happy during Simchas Beis haShoeivah would say like this: If I am here, then all are here. And if I am not here, who is here?...

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Shaarei Yosher, sec. 6: Refinement – Part 1

AS A BEGINNING OF this preparation, so that one is ready to acquire Torah, the Torah requires specific conditions. The first condition is toil and contemplation, as our sages explain “‘If in my statues you go’ (Vayiqra 26:3) … that you should be toiling in the Torah.” (Rashi ad loc, quoting Sifra 26:2) And other things required for acquiring Torah....

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Shaarei Yosher, sec. 5: Sharing – Conclusion

This is also how it works with the emanation/assistance, the dew of heaven, of acquiring wisdom. Every person is worthy of grace from the One above some increase in wisdom, to take root in his soul some deep root. This attainment would not be given for he himself, only to be like a disburser to distribute it to every person...

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Shaarei Yosher, sec. 5: Sharing – Part 3

WITH THIS it is possible to get a feeling for the idea that is told in the Talmud in an amazing story about the holy man Nachum ish Gam Zu. One time he did not fulfill the mitzvah of charity as he felt he should. He decreed upon himself that his eyes go blind, his hands whither, and his feet...

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Shaarei Yosher, sec. 5: Sharing – Part 2

With this idea one can understand how charity has the effect of enriching the one who performs it, as the sages say on the verse “‘aseir ta’aseir – you shall surely tithe’ – tithe, so that you shall become rich – shetis’asheir” . Someone who is appointed over a small part of the national treasury who does a good job...

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Shaarei Yosher, sec. 5: Sharing – part 1

Similarly it is appropriate to think about all the gifts of heaven “from the dew of the heavens and the fat of the land” (Bereishis 27:38) that they are given to the Jewish people as a whole. Their allotment to individuals is only in their role as caretakers until they divide it to those who need it, to each according...

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Shaarei Yosher, sec. 4: Connecting – Conclusion

In my opinion, this idea is hinted at in Hillel’s words, as he used to say, “If I am [not] for me, who will be for me? And when I am for myself, what am I?” It is fitting for each person to strive to be concerned for himself. But with this, he must also strive to understand that “I...

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Shaarei Yosher, sec. 4: Connecting – part 4

And there are more levels in this of a person who is whole, who can connect his soul to feel that all of the world and worlds are his “I”, and he himself is only one small limb in all of creation. Then, his self-love helps him love all of the Jewish people and [even] all of creation. ועוד יש...

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Shaarei Yosher, sec. 4: Connecting – part 3

… And above him is someone who can include in his “I” all of his household and family. Someone who walks according to the way of the Torah, his “I” includes the whole Jewish people, since in truth every Jewish person is only like a limb of the body of the nation of Israel …ולמעלה מזה מי שמכניס לה״אני״ שלו...

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Shaarei Yosher, sec. 4: Connecting – part 2

The entire “I” of a coarse and lowly person is restricted only to his substance and body. Above him is someone who feels that his “I” is a synthesis of body and soul. … האיש הגס והשפל כל ״אני׳׳ שלו מצומצם רק בחמרו וגופו, למעלה ממנו מי שמרגיש ש״אני״ שלו הוא מורכב מגוף ונפש, … How do people differ qualitatively?...

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Shaarei Yosher, sec. 4: Connecting – part 1

Although at first glance it seems that feelings of love for oneself and feelings of love for others are like competing co-wives one to the other, we have the duty to try to delve into it, to find the means to unite them, since Hashem expects both from us. This means [a person must] explain and accept the truth of...

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Shaarei Yosher, sec. 3: Self-Interest – Conclusion

In the previous installment, Rav Shimon wrote, “שאם יאמינו שכל חכמתם וקנינם לא להם הוא, הרי אז אבדו כל עשרם, ורק על ידי הכפירה יתעשרו — If they believe that all their wisdom and all they acquired were not theirs, they would lose all their wealth. Only through heretical denial can they make themselves rich.” It would seem Rav Shimon...

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Shaarei Yosher, sec. 3: Self-Interest – part 5

One can also feel this way with respect to acquiring a greater thing [than a qav of merchandise], which is wisdom. To elaborate: If a person does not try to the full measure of his ability to acquire Torah, to grasp the wisdom of awe-fear and pure faith, then there is a possibility to stumble through the strength of the...

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Shaarei Yosher, sec. 3: Self-Interest – part 4

In my opinion, this is true despite all the evil and sin that the world is full of because of this middah of self-love. Added to the challenge of wealth, this middah will cause him to stumble until the depths, as it is written, “Lest I grow full and deny[, and say, ‘Who is Hashem?’” (Proverbs 30:9)] Because of the...